The Swords of Ditto Review: Recursively charming

Credit: onebitbeyond, Devolver Digital
Credit: onebitbeyond, Devolver Digital /

This colorful rougelite is not without its flaws, but its charming personality makes for an enjoyable and humorous adventure for all sorts of gamers.

Title: The Swords of Ditto
Developer: onebitbeyond
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: PS4, PC (Version reviewed)
Release Date: April 24, 2018

Did you ever play with a kazoo when you were a kid? I remember bringing one home from a friend’s birthday party, only to get it taken away that same day after driving my parents insane with my constant buzzing. I honestly almost forgot kazoos were even a thing until The Swords of Ditto. Not only are they a part of the game’s fast travel system, but they are an integral part of its charming and upbeat soundtrack. They are especially featured in the menu music and the fast travel jingle, which have been stuck in my head for days now. They’ve been looping over and over, like my brain recursively trying to figure out how to break the cursed loop of The Swords of Ditto story.

The entire premise of The Swords of Ditto is focused on the child hero of the century defeating the evil antagonist Mormo in just a few short days. Should the hero fail, the entire island of Ditto must endure Mormo’s reign for another 100 years until the next hero comes along to pick up the legendary sword and try to do the same. This backstory nicely sets up the game’s primary roguelite mechanics: once your hero dies, you lose nearly all of your progress. It’s a race against time, with a different randomized map filled with dungeons and secrets every playthrough.

Playing on normal difficulty, you only have four short in-game days before you are forced into the final battle against Mormo. It’s ultimately up to you to decide how much of those four days you want to spend exploring and gearing up. But when the timer is up, you must face Mormo, ready or not. There are two Anchors located in dungeons throughout the world, each of which drastically reduces the difficulty of the final encounter when destroyed. But to access an Anchor dungeon you first need its related toy from a Toy Dungeon. And for every Anchor you do not destroy, the final boss of that dungeon fights alongside Mormo.

The Swords of Ditto
Credit: Devolver Digital, onebitbeyond /

So two Toy Dungeons and two Anchor Dungeons then the final dungeon and boss fight: doesn’t sound like too much, right? Oh, but certain dungeons require a minimum player level. And the map is completely randomized with blocked off paths, requiring you to do a little exploration to find your way around. Plus, you’ll need food and gear to give yourself a good chance of survival. You can see how it all adds up.

This leads to an interesting conundrum I faced during my playthroughs of The Swords of Ditto. The island is filled with secrets, hidden dungeons, side quests, and places to explore. From finding lost penguins to hidden cat shrines, the game has all sorts of goofy and interesting side content. The world is so unique and colorful and all I wanted to do was explore every single inch of it, but often times I felt too pressured by the game’s countdown timer to give it as much attention as it deserved.

Luckily the in-game clock only runs when you are in the overworld, so you can at least take your time exploring every nook and cranny of the game’s dungeons. Like the island’s layout, every dungeon is randomly generated with different puzzles and secrets. They are very reminiscent of the older The Legend of Zelda dungeons, with key locked doors, item chests, and even secret rooms discovered by blowing up those classic cracks in the walls. The dungeon’s puzzles were never overly difficult, and typically utilized your most recently acquired weapon. Occasionally the randomized rooms contained useless environmental components, but it never detracted from the dungeon crawling feel of the game.

The Swords of Ditto
Credit: onebitbeyond, Devolver Digital /

Time becomes less of an issue later in the game when you unlock the ability to reverse it through a special currency. The Celestial Shards drop from fallen enemies, so they will require a little grinding to get enough, but it does help ease that time limit pressure just a little. But it didn’t help provide any real extra time for exploration: I still found myself needing that time just to prepare for my fight with Mormo. This was also in part due to the way level scaling works in the game. Enemies seem to scale up close to your level, so every fight is balanced. It’s not the easiest to out level your opponents, meaning time you could be exploring is often spent leveling.

Ultimately, The Swords of Ditto is a roguelite, though, and you can’t expect to see everything in a single playthrough, let alone a handful of playthroughs. While you definitely lose progress each time you die, you still maintain your level and any currency you gained. The sword itself maintains your “power,” but you lose any Toys and Stickers your hero has gathered. Yes, you read that right, Toys. While your hero can equip traditional fantasy weapons like a sword, bow and arrow, and bombs, the game also features a variety of wacky Toys like vinyl record frisbees, golf clubs, and bowling balls. You are a child hero, after all. Players can then put stickers on their gear like a kid might put a sticker on their favorite toy, except these stickers give perks like stronger attacks or more health. Even the aforementioned Kazoo fast travel system plays into this theme.

The Swords of Ditto
Credit: onebitbeyond, Devolver Digital /

The game’s difficulty lies mostly in your ability to piece together the world’s map quickly and your combat prowess. The island of Ditto is littered with all sorts of enemies, each with their own weakness to discover. The game doesn’t tell you those green poison slimes only die from fire, or that that three-headed floating skull can convert your attacks to health. Some enemies use Ether, which can eventually lock you into a crystal prison if you are hit enough with those attacks. Health is the most important resource in the game, and every hit you take can end up being the difference between a successful and a failed run. While you can find and buy food to restore health, it’s not always the easiest to come by. Learning your enemies and being skilled in combat is the ultimate key to success.

Adding to the difficulty are the random affixes assigned to each dungeon. The game explains that Ditto is the “Island of Trials”, and each dungeon is a trial testing your ability as a hero. Dungeons are given special rules that can be both beneficial and detrimental. I experienced dungeons in which my Toy Power meter (which dictates how often you can use your weapons) was automatically restored extremely fast and another dungeon that gave me twice the experience points per kill. I’ve also run into other dungeons where enemies automatically regenerated health or one where my Toy Power didn’t regenerate at all. This makes the randomized dungeon crawling of The Swords of Ditto a bit more exciting while at times quite frustrating. It feels bad when you stock up on food only for RNG to dictate your food doesn’t even work in the dungeon.

The Swords of Ditto
Credit: onebitbeyond, Devolver Digital /

Part of me wishes the game was a regular adventure game with no time limit

As you might expect from a roguelite, every playthrough is different. But where The Swords of Ditto excels is how it ties the recursive gameplay into the lore of the world. How far your hero progressed each run affects the environment of Ditto, changing its environment, loot, and characters. The NPCs conversations differ greatly across runs. They do have to live under the evil rule of Mormo for a century between your playthroughs, after all. There is even an in-game vendor that thinks Mormo is amazing and sells you “evil” Toys and Stickers.

There is an overarching story behind the universe, Mormo, the Toys of Legend, and the Sword of Ditto itself, but it’s never forced upon the player. Instead, players can find secret tablets hidden throughout the world that provide more background information, allowing you to be as involved or disconnected from the lore as you want. I think it would have been nice for more of this story to be interwoven into the game itself, but compared to other roguelites I have played, it gives more backstory to reinforce your hero’s actions than I expected.

The Swords of Ditto
Credit: onebitbeyond, Devolver Digital /

What The Swords of Ditto does best, though, is inject its charisma and personality into every corner of the game. The art style is reminiscent of a mix of Adventure Time and Steven Universe, the music is charming and catchy, and the writing is filled with childish humor, from poo jokes to side quests involving finding lost dentures. Even the Toys themselves are goofy: you can summon a giant foot from the heavens to crush enemies in a targeted area. There were puzzles in one dungeon that involved hitting an orb with your golf club into a hole that, when successful, invoked a silly golf clap sound effect.

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Without spoiling all of the world’s secrets (and I am sure there are a bunch I still haven’t’ fully discovered), The Swords of Ditto provides just enough variety to make each playthrough unique and enjoyable. I respect what the game is trying to do with its roguelite gameplay loop, but part of me wishes the game was a regular adventure game with no time limit. Unlocking the ability to increase your allotted time definitely helps, but again, it just doesn’t give quite enough time to explore everything without rushing. I most often experienced this urgency when I had not met the minimum level to enter a dungeon, which involved quickly trying to find enough enemies in the world to grind out experience.

The game does include a “Relaxed” difficulty mode which increases your time limit to seven days from four, but that also detracts from the challenge of the game. It’s a tough balancing act that might not appeal to all players. The game’s difficulty seemed a little more reliant on RNG then I would have liked. Some of the random dungeon affixes felt crushing while others left me overpowered. Nevertheless, the combat itself felt fair and was enjoyable, especially trying to balance numerous enemies at once. The Swords of Ditto‘s mix of adventure and roguelite mechanics was a refreshing change of pace. Plus, who could turn down some sweet kazoo music tracks?

7.5. <em>The Swords of Ditto</em> is a colorful and charming little roguelite adventure that is just delightful to play. Outside of some reservations about the forced time limit restricting our exploration, the game is a lighthearted and fun time either alone or with a friend.. onebitbeyond. . The Swords of Ditto

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.